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ERIC Number: EJ1141587
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Apr
An Investigation of Experiential and Transformative Learning in Study Abroad Programs
Strange, Hannah; Gibson, Heather J.
Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, v29 n1 p85-100 Apr 2017
Transformative Learning Theory is a framework proposed by Mezirow (1991). It asserts that through reflection, active learning, and placing ourselves in uncomfortable situations students are able to develop their understanding of the world and of themselves, allowing a potential change to their perspectives and frames of reference. On the other hand Experiential Learning is defined as the type of education whereby knowledge and meaning are contextualized in actual experiences, as often found in study abroad programs (Perry, 2011). The very nature of study abroad involves international travel and experiencing unfamiliar environments, which when combined with effective programming can promote concrete learning. Through applying the basis of experiential learning to the potential outcomes of transformative learning, it may be possible to further direct educational programming in study abroad for the better. Since the outcomes of both experiential and transformative learning are in alignment with those desired in study abroad, it is appropriate to use them both as frameworks to assess the effectiveness of a variety of study abroad models. In this article, the authors suggest that experiential learning can provide guidance on designing study abroad programs to include activities that are "more hands on" and as such is an indicator of program type, whereas transformative learning theory contributes not only to program design, but also to assessing potential outcomes of these international experiences. Thus, the purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of program type (considering experiential components) and length on transformative learning outcomes. As such, this study uses transformative learning theory (Mezirow, 1991; 1997; 2003) and experiential learning theory (Kolb, 1984; Kolb & Kolb 2005) as combined conceptual frameworks. An online survey design was used to collect data from college students enrolled in 2012 summer study abroad programs through a large south-eastern US university. These programs included faculty-led study abroad and exchange programs ranging from one-week to one semester in length. The survey instrument consisted of a fixed-choice and open-ended response format questionnaire. Data were analyzed using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). The quantitative data showed that almost all of the students achieved some level of transformative learning with some reporting that they had achieved what Mezirow (1991) terms a full perspective transformation. In the responses to the open-ended questions, there was evidence that participants showed signs of achieving all three of the basic pre-cursors to transformative learning. In terms of the influence of program length on cultural and transformative outcomes, where a program was less than 18 days long, a significantly lower chance of achieving transformative learning was found.
Descriptors: Study Abroad, Experiential Learning, Transformative Learning, Program Length, Learning Theories, College Students, Student Surveys, Online Surveys, Statistical Analysis
Frontiers Journal. Dickinson College P.O. Box 1773, Carlisle, PA 17013. Tel: 717-254-8858; Fax: 717-245-1677; Web site: http://www.frontiersjournal.com
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A